Practical lessons from Sun Tzu's The Art of War

8:05:00 AM

I finished reading Sun Tzu's The Art of War in one sitting last night. It is by far the best non-historical historical book I've ever read. It was written by an ancient Chinese military general, "whose authenticity is questioned by historians" to this day. Nevertheless, Sun Tzu (孙子) is considered as a great historical figure and his work a great contribution to Asian history and culture.

The Art of War is basically 13 chapters of military strategies that Sun Tzu wrote for King Helü of Wu. It has sections devoted to geography, stratagems, spies and other obvious war topics. Oh oh oh, and there was even one chapter that discussed entirely how to attack with fire! I tried to Google more about it but aside from fire arrows and fire ships, I couldn't really find anything that discussed emphatically (literal) fire power in ancient Chinese warfare. That would have been fun.

Though meant for actual wars, I enjoyed the book on a personal level and actually found it quite practical. I don't think I would pass for "warfreak" status naman (haha), but I don't know - I got really excited turning the pages, thinking "Gee, this is like, super applicable in man's personal battles!" lol.

HEMINGWAY. Defensive mode off. Onto the practical lessons from Sun Tzu's The Art of War:

1. "According as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one's plans."
(#17, Laying Plans) The commentary from a certain Chang Yu reads that "you must be guided by the actions of the enemy in attempting to secure a favorable position in actual warfare."

2. "Now in order to kill the enemy, our men must be roused to anger; that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy, they must have their rewards."
(#2, Waging War) I do agree that you need to hate your enemy (whoever and whatever they are) in order to win. For example, if you want to quit smoking, you need to stop thinking about why you enjoy it so much and switch to reminding yourself that it is slowly but surely killing you lol.

3. "...supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."
(#2, Attack by Stratagem)

4. "He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles."
(#17 and 18, Attack by Stratagem)

5. "To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength; to see the sun and moon is no sign of sharp sight; to hear the noise of thunder is no sign of quick ear."
(# 10, Tactical Dispositions) Learn to see beyond the obvious.

6. "Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy's will to be imposed on him."
(#2, Weak Points and Strong)

7. "So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak."
(#30, Weak Points and Strong)

8. "Ponder and deliberate before you make a move."
(#2, Maneuvering)

9. In the chapter on Variations in Tactics, Sun Tzu listed down five dangerous faults which may affect a general: (1) recklessness, which leads to destruction (2) cowardice, which leads to capture (3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults (4) a delicacy of honor, which is sensitive to shame and (5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble. 

10. "On desperate ground, fight."
(#14, Nine Situations) Earlier in the chapter, desperate ground is described as "ground on which we can only be saved from destruction by fighting without delay."

11. "If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not stay where you are."
(#19, Attack by Fire)

12. "Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men is foreknowledge."
(#4, The Use of Spies)

I think it would be interesting to note that The Art of War was first tested on women. Two favorite concubines of the king were beheaded because the women failed to obey the general's command. Sabi nga ni pareng Sun Tzu, "If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame. But if his orders ARE clear, and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers." Feeling ko lang he's good with people. Also, hindi ako feminist, sharing lang.

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  1. you have to watch red cliff 1 and 2 if you haven't. nice epic war story with heavy strategies involved. including those fire arrows and fire ships!

    1. will do! Thanks for the suggestion! Haven't seen any war films in a while. :)


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